About the Faces on the Cutting Room Floor Number Eight: Authenticity, Site Surveys, and Blind Serendipity

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I have been asked a number of times how much research I did in order to invoke the sense of place that often pervades 1635: The Papal Stakes. The answer is, "Lots." And there are two parts to that answer.

The first part is the frank admission that strong reliance upon good libraries, wary utilization of Wikipedia, and—above all—deep forays via Google Earth were indispensable in acquiring a good sense of the land and architecture of the various locales depicted in Papal Stakes. That being said, those sources often came close to leading me into error, as well. For instance: there is a scene early in the book where Estuban Miro is leading the Wrecking Crew over the alps in a dirigible and they come across a "duck pond" called the Marmelsee.  Harry Lefferts is surprised that it is not a larger expanse of waters, given how vast it looked on their Fodors maps. Well, in the E-arc, I believe you'll find that it is shown to be just that large—because the small duck pond was turned into a vast alpine lake by a damming project in (I believe) the early twentieth century. But that was not flagged in any of the references I had and was, I believe, pointed out by a reader familiar with the region's history. Google Earth doesn't lie, but we do occasionally change the planet (and sometimes it changes all by itself, as I learned when trying to locate the seventeenth-century shoreline of Louisiana versus the modern one as I commenced writing 1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies).

The second part of the answer is that I have actually visited a number of key sites in Papal Stakes. Certainly Rome, but more especially Mallorca, where, over the years, I've probably spent a cumulative total of about four months. During some of my final visits there, I was fortunately under contract for Papal Stakes and so had the opportunity to go armed with a camera and conduct what, in the film business, we call "site surveys." What I found, and its value to enriching the narrative, are for you to judge. However, not all of these photos were snapped by your humble narrator, and for every one that you see here, there were twenty passed over for one reason or another.

So to end this series on the same cinematic theme with which we began –"faces on the cutting room floor"—here are some of the site survey (and other helpful graphics) that went into the making and visualizations of 1635: The Papal Stakes.

01 Monte Cristo resized

#1 The Island of Monte Cristo. This is the view entering the bay into which Miro and Harry Lefferts led the pirate xebec beneath the ambushing guns of North's Hibernians and then the boarders under Owen Roe O'Neill's Wild Geese. You will note the scrub cover, the crags that provide stony foxholes and the murderous downward angle of fire and commanding view of the battlespace. A narrow inlet any other day, at that point in the book, it was nothing less than a kill zone.

02 Bay of Canyamel

#2  The Bay of Canyamel. The view here is from the crest of the Cap des Pins looking across the bay at Cap Vermell. If you look closely, you will see a triangle of shadow approximately one third of the way in from the extreme right hand of the image, set in the face of the stony spur of land and relatively close to the water. This is the entrance to the Caves of Arta, known as a pirate lair since Roman times and a tourist attraction today. But trust me, a firefight in there would be not merely a gothic horror show, but deafening. This was, of course, the site of the second attack Miro's band made upon pirates, grabbing another hull (a llaut, a Balearic boat still used today) and much-needed supplies with which to begin their covert stay upon Mallorca.

03 Palma map

#3 A period map of Palma de Mallorca, first city of the entire Balearic Island chain. Although the map was drafted approximately one hundred years after the events in Papal Stakes, it is inspired by the layout of the city as it was in 1644 (hence the strangely anachronistic mix of ship types). Even as an "epochal fusion" map, it still offers an excellent sense of the layout and scope of this picturesque and strategically important provincial capitol. Long a point of contact between Moors and Spanish, as well as Carthaginians and Romans, trade and piracy are integral parts of the island's heritage. The Castell de Bellver, the site of Frank and Giovanna Stone's final imprisonment and one of the two pitched, final battles in the novel, is located well to the west/left of the map edge.

04 1895

#4 Convincing description must extend to artifacts as well as architecture. In the case of all the boats depicted, considerable examination of deckplans and accounts (unofficial as well as official) was exhaustive. Weapons and equipment were handled similarly; if you are going to convincingly depict any device, one must have a sense of its physical properties.

In the case of the hallmark weapons of this combat-intensive novel, the signature rifle of the Hibernian Mercenary Battalion was the Winchester Model 1895 lever action in .40-72. A black powder weapon (in 1635), it was an excellent compromise between simplicity of design, portability, rate of fire, and stopping power (it was used with reasonable success as a big game rifle). Nowhere near as affordable or easy to manufacture as the standard shoulder arms of the USE, having a model of the weapon from which to build copies allowed it to become a practical "special equipage" model for small, elite formations such as the Hibernians.


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